Wednesday, 8 July 2009

My Welsh Blogosphere - Duncan Higgitt

WalesHome.org began life as an email from my brother Adam. He suggested that my skills as a former journalist and editor and his as a blogger might combine to create a site that was different. The idea was simple; a web presence that offered analysis on a day-to-day basis where day-to-day reporting cannot, but which eschewed the instant soapbox reaction sometimes seen in the blogosphere.

It took me around three seconds to become excited by the idea, and in no time at all we began planning. I had tried blogging in various ways since leaving journalism in 2007, but it left me feeling fenced in, unable to take off in 90-degree directions. I think the same reasoning explains why I’ve never joined a political organisation. That’s not to say that blogs (or parties) aren’t a good thing, it’s just there is also space for something else.

There was a lot of planning, a lot of ideas tested and thrown on the scrapheap. We arrived at WalesHome.org as a name fairly early on – or, rather, Adam did. He liked the way conservativehome was put together, and felt we could apply some of its presentation to what we were doing. I, on the other hand, found myself with a huge list of what I didn’t want WelshHome.org to be. I didn’t want it to be a newspaper, or look anything like a newspaper. I believe too many of them have taken their content and dumped it online without giving thought as to the difference in how news is found by consumers when searching the internet or browsing a newsagent’s racks. I felt – still feel – that we are able to move beyond the era of ‘Gotcha’, that a headline is no longer the deciding factor in what people choose to read.

I also made it clear that I wanted no dragons, and no red, white or green associated with the site. I believe very strongly that Wales has arrived, that it has taken its rightful place as a country of equal worth in the family of British nations, and beyond. Welsh accents are used frequently in advertising (and there is an exact science behind it). Speak with any 20-something from across the border and they immediately become animated when they learn you are from Cardiff. They’ve either been, are going soon, or are very much planning to go. For Wales, read Cardiff, but it sure beats the Hell out of jokes about rain and sheep shagging.

Then we began meeting with people we wanted to become involved in what we were doing. I think, upon reflection, that we were not as crystal clear in our intentions then as we are now. Many people, particularly journalists, were confused by the idea. One person who got it straight away, and who has proved to be as important to WalesHome.org as Adam and I is Daran Hill, head of Positif Politics. We saw his contribution on Welshbloggers.com and realised that since he didn’t want to keep a blog but did want to write that he was a perfect addition to the team. Daran’s connections in Welsh politics are formidable, and he’s also a damned fine writer who, as we had hoped, is prepared to take an independent approach.

Independence governs our approach. What we are really interested in is ideas. Because of its nature, many of them are likely to come from politics. We don’t care what party you belong to, and we don’t care if you are a PPC, or anyone who might be shied away from because they have a sub-agenda. I have been in journalism long enough – and both Adam and Daran in politics long enough – to act as effective gatekeepers. We allow writers from all backgrounds because we believe our readership is smart enough to discern between argument and selling.

But WalesHome.org isn’t just about politics. We are very keen to develop the business column through contributions. This has taken its time, not least because the people we want are busy. Although I run my own business, I remain unconvinced that people will tune in to hear of my limited experiences. Here, as with our colours, I am determined that traditional issues of confidence are not a feature. Much of the media still reports big business deals here as if they can’t quite believe it’s happened, that it is proof that this ‘tiny nation’ can stand up with the big boys. Yes, well we know that. It’s happened, so let’s get on with exploring new ideas.

I believe both Society and Home Truths stamp our intention as something different. The latter is designed to be provocative, to take a received wisdom and argue against it. Society, I hope, will take a more subtle route. We are determined that it will tackle subjects that (and please forgive the analogy) have been reduced to black and white arguments, shouted rather than discussed. For example, it does not necessarily follow that because you disagree with Sharia law that you are racist - or, to use the most meaningless word of our age, Islamaphobic - just as you are not strictly homophobic because you disagree with gay adoption. Conversely – and this demonstrates the kind of polarised territory we are trying to explore – if figures show that this country is not overrun with immigrants, we shall say so (and, in fact, already have). Human relations are far more complex than the simplified arguments we are regularly presented with, and we would like to say how.

At the weekends, we shall carry either essays or profiles, or both. Again, we are ready to countenance all comers, within reason. Here, I want to develop the site so that we move into features, too. I’ve never been interested in celebrities – other do it far better than I would, anyway. I’m far more concerned with getting under the skin of Welsh life, with simply telling the stories of people that could be your neighbour, friend or relative. We have a features list that is currently being worked on, so expect to see something here soon.

So much for phase one of WalesHome.org. Phase two, which remains very much on the drawing board, will involve the monetising of the site. We remain unconvinced by either subscription or the ‘long tail’ models, and the temptation is to sit it out while the big players resolve it for us, as the economics of the age compels them far more to search for a solution. We find ourselves in the position of being able to stay small and agile, growing only when we think it is safe and advantageous to do so.

So why monetise? Simple – to pay for and thereby attract new writers, who we aim to pay properly for their efforts. This is far likely to mean investigative journalists than star writers. Better pay equals better writing is a simple economic truth that appears to escape every industry that requires scribes – and I include the SEO agency that recently offered me a fiver for 500 words. The NUJ rate is 22p a word: that will be our minimum. But that is for the future. At present we are relying on the kindness of individuals, but it is our intention that those who take the first hard step with us at this stage will, in time, be remunerated.

We’re not interested in taking money out of the site for ourselves. WalesHome.org is more guided by passion and what we believe in rather than any commercial reasoning. We hope Wales will welcome this website, as we hope that everyone will have a say in what it does.

(Written by Duncan Higgitt, former editor and journalist with the Western Mail. He is the editor of the new Welsh news site WalesHome.org)

This is post twenty five of a series of articles giving a chance to Welsh bloggers to have their say on the state of the blogosphere and where it's going. If you're interested in contributing place feel free to contact me at welshbloggers@gmail.com

7 Responses to “My Welsh Blogosphere - Duncan Higgitt”

Well written and thoughtful article. Unusual from an ex-Western Mule hack. Pob lwc i chi!

Simon Dyda said...

What was the name of your site again?

Eschewed! Eschewed- what the hell does that mean...? We at Cambria Politico are not going to give up on the soapbox reaction. Never!
Not sure what the hell this blog has to do with Wales anyway. As Simon implies the site name is well out of order - you or your contributors should NOT presume to represent Wales or Welsh political thought.

Having already contributed and become friends with the founders – Wales Home is a beauty.

There is genuinely no agenda or any of that bullshit.

It is quality writing (and me) focused but not only on Wales, with opinions to boot.

Simon Dyda said...

" As Simon implies the site name is well out of order"

That was not my intention. I just thought perhaps Duncan hadn't mentioned the name of his site enough times. :P

Valleys Mam said...

Good site ,how representative it is I have yet to decide.Daran is excellent as always.
I think there should be room for all sorts of comment -serious and not so serious.
Good at writing , now that's subjective; as long as its interesting and readable ,what more do you want.Journos are not always good writers I have discovered.
Where are your women contributors or is yet another boys clwb.

Daran said...

Thanks to Duncan for writing the official WalesHome history and vision of our new project, which is called WalesHome. For the record, we agree with Valleys Mam that women contributors are needed on WalesHome and have taken steps to ensure this happens quickly on WalesHome. Watch this space. Or the WalesHome space anyway.

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